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Rescuing Robin Hood

Time to don your Lincoln green! The wicked Sheriff of Nottingham has captured Robin Hood and the Sheriff's guards have been rounding up the village folk. It's down to Robin's Merry Men (and Women) to save the day by battling the Sheriff's minions, freeing the captive villagers and rescuing Robin from the Sheriff's clutches.

Rescuing Robin Hood is a fully cooperative deck building game played over five rounds (tho' there's an 'accelerated' option to cut this down to three rounds if you want to cut this 60 minute game down to around 40 minutes). The game comes with eight tarot-sized Merry Men cards from which the 1-5 players pick one with which to play. The various Merry Men have different attributes, as do the cards representing each of the 80 villagers. Your Merry Man will be dealt a starting deck of eight villagers from which you draw four as your starting band for round 1. You collect any skill tokens shown on any of the cards and you tot up the attributes for your Merry Man and four villager cards and mark the totals on your individual board. This will then give you the attributes you can use making attacks this round: Wit, Stealth, Brawn and Jolliness (you are Merry, after all).

The game incorporates a substantial deck of 'scenario' cards that set varied objectives and setups for each round, tempered for the number of players, so adding to the game's replayability. Tho' the exact details will vary, you'll end up facing several rows showing one or two villagers with stronger attributes than those in your starting deck but who are held captive by a bunch of guards. Only the first guard card will initially be face up, tho' the game distinguishes stronger (red-backed) guard cards from the others (blue-backed). The guards all have Wit, Stealth and Brawn attributes, and to mount each of the two attacks you are allowed on your turn, you have to match or beat the attribute with which you are attacking.

Each attribute is used slightly differently. If you attack using Brawn, you flip over and reveal all the guard cards in the stack you are attacking and your total Brawn has to at least match the combined total of all the guard cards. Succeed and the guards are removed; and any Brawn that you didn't need (ie: surplus above the guards' total) is passed onto the next player. Fail, and the guards all remain in place, albeit that they all remain face up. No Brawn is passed on.

Stealth attacks let the attacker choose which guards they are attacking, so the attacker can, for example, use Stealth just to reduce the number of guards at a location rather than try to take them all out. It's a cooperative game, so thinning down the guards can make it easier for another player to take out the rest. Of course, you need to specify which guard cards you are seeking to match or beat and if you overreach and fail, all the guards will remain in place (albeit now face up). Unless the guard cards in the stack are all face up, the use of Stealth is something of a push-your-luck gamble. Unused Stealth doesn't transfer to the next player.

Wit doesn't transfer either. It's attacks are done one at a time, in that you decide whether or not to continue. This provides an often tense push-your-luck mechanism: if you keep going and turn over a guard card whose Wit takes the guards' total above yours, then all the guards you thought you'd beaten return to the row!

Jolliness isn't an attribute with which you can attack but it can be used as a wild attribute to bolster any of your other attributes before you attack. Any unused Jolliness transfers to the next player, so it can be an especially powerful resource. Players will also be able to make use of skill tokens for Scouting (flip two guards face up), Cookery (add 2 to any attack attribute) or Prayer (move any face-up or face-down guard to a different row, or, for 2 Prayer tokens, eliminate a guard card).

Attributes and most tokens don't carry forward to the next round, so it's 'use' em or lose 'em' - tho' players can effectively pool their tokens.

At the end of each round, players get to draft any successfully rescued villagers. As in most deck-building games, these are added to players' discard piles but you'll get access to them from round 3 onwards because in this round, and at the start of the final round, you'll have to pare down your draw deck so you'll be replacing your starting villagers with these better-attribute villagers before you embark on your final objective of battling the Sheriff's mighty castle defences and his elite guards.

As you might guess from the title, the game is won when you succeed in freeing Robin Hood from the castle and its guards but you can go on to attempt an even more satisfying double-plus victory by continuing, with Robin, to fight the Sheriff himself...

Castillo Games have done a good job in the production of the game, including linen-finish cards, and the game incorporates a small deck of 'expert mode' cards so players can challenge themselves further. We'd have just liked to have seen dual-layer boards: keeping track of attributes by placing cubes on a flat card adds to the fiddly set up each round and means you're always at risk of losing track when anyone jogs the table.

In Rescuing Robin Hood, Bryce Brown has succeeded in devising an entertaining fully cooperative game with enough variety to keep players coming back for more. The clear and straightforward rules, and Paul Vermeesch's appealing art, make this accessible as a family game. But don't let the villagers' jokey names fool you, this game is no pushover: your Merry Men will need to work together to optimise your effectiveness if you're going to stand a chance of rescuing Robin, and certainly if you hope to take on the Sheriff!

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